Gay Courage

Alright, so Active Voice wasn’t such a good choice of a blog title considering it’s been more than a month since my initial posting. How active is that, right? Its one thing to celebrate being rid of editors, but what’s hard to cope with is the accompanying loss of deadlines. It’s a terrible thing to admit but I’ve discovered how abjectly dependent I am on deadlines to get the words flowing.

Anyway, this morning I’m cracking the whip on myself so let’s see how far I can get. Try as one might it’s hard to get away from the subject of the police in Jamaica and the lamentable excesses they can’t seem to help perpetrating in the course of discharging their duties (the latest is that an 11-month old infant was killed by a police bullet yesterday while in another part of the country a number of legit farmers lost their crops after a fire set by police officers in a neighbouring ganja field got out of control). Some weeks ago the nation was convulsed by the confession of Detective Constable Cary Lyn-Sue, who admitted to falsification of witnesses and evidence and on the heels of this came another cop confession—this time from Constable Michael Hayden, announcing that he was gay and proud of it and that he was suffering active discrimination and abuse from his colleagues because of this.

I had started a blog on the subject some weeks ago but then the New York Times carried a substantive article on both Hayden and the abuse and harassment of male homosexuals in Jamaica (February 24, 2008) so I thought it redundant to express my views on this vexed issue right then. Suffice it to say that far more education and honest debate on the subject needs to take place here. At the same time international gay rights organizations also need to educate themselves on the very complex reasons for what is being termed Jamaican homophobia.

What I mean by this is that just as white feminists realized gradually that they could not determine the feminist agenda for the rest of the world because of differing social, cultural and historical conditions elsewhere so must organizations such as GLAD, Outrage and others develop a more modulated and nuanced strategy when trying to intervene in the sexual politics of places such as Jamaica (in this context they could start by reading Marlon James latest blog ). A ‘one size fits all’ approach is bound to fail; in the process it also makes the terrain that much more dangerous for the most vulnerable homosexual of all, the impoverished, working-class male.

The climate of terror and violence towards homosexuals is to be condemned unequivocally. I had the opportunity to talk with both Andre and Michael Hayden, two of the principals mentioned in the NYT article on a local radio show that I was co-hosting. Andre was among a group of men in Mandeville whose home was stormed by a mob of cutlass-wielding men who proceeded to beat and ‘chop’ them for nothing more than their sexual orientation. It was hard to look at Andre, a gentle, dreamy-eyed youth sitting in front of me covered in ugly scars and bandages and not want to reach out and hug him and apologize for the barbaric treatment that he had recieved.

Likewise it was impossible not to admire the courage of young Michael Hayden who decided to come out and defend his rights both as a police officer and as a human being. According to him it was rumours spread by policemen at the station he worked at who knew that he was in the habit of visiting the house that may have incited the mob attack (According to Hayden female police officers–perhaps he reasoned, because they go through the experience of childbirth–were far more sympathetic to him and the gay cause in general). It is refreshing to see such fierce and forthright outspokenness in someone who has finally decided that he’s not willing to remain silent any more. If only more of the rich and powerful gays here could find the courage to speak out too it would make all the difference; it’s hard to see the situation here changing anytime soon unless this happens.

An ‘Inconvenient Truth’?

Detective Constable Cary Lyn-Sue. The name will probably go down in Jamaican history in years to come; Thirty-one year old Lyn-Sue put the cat among the pigeons last week by doing something revolutionary. He told the truth. The detective constable confessed in the Montego Bay Resident Magistrate’s Court that he had fabricated witness testimony in the trial of 22-year old Jason James, allegedly a member of the Killer Bee gang.

Well, I didn’t even know such a gang existed. Lyn-Sue openly admitted that it was frustration that had driven him to invent a crown witness complete with incriminating testimony when fear prevented any actual witnesses from testifying. He was aware of various crimes committed by the accused, he said, and thought that getting James off the streets even for a day would be doing society a favour.

Speaking on Nationwide Radio’s This Morning programme the emotional constable said that he realized that his motive did not justify his deed and that he was perfectly willing to face the consequences for his crime of perjury. However he had recently converted to Christianity and found it increasingly difficult to live with what he had done. Owning up to his misdeed had made him feel good, and he felt a sense of relief, he said, even though he realized that the consequences would be dire.

There was something moving, if not awe-inspiring, about this extraordinary admission by the young policeman whose voice vibrated at times with the tension he was obviously feeling, having decided to take this lonely step of owning up to his misconduct, in a culture which appears to prefer to keep the truth behind bars or six feet under while making the sign of the cross and singing sankeys.

In fact I was puzzled by the response of the hosts of my favourite morning programme (This Morning) on which Lyn-Sue was being interviewed. Both hosts seemed to consciously be withholding approval of the young man’s unprecedented confession, instead trying to get him to ‘inform’ on other corrupt cops. I would have given the young man a metaphorical hug and thanked him for showing such courage. Instead he was offered no sympathy or approval. As one of the hosts said the next day, “Yes, we should say it’s commendable but we ought not to applaud it”.

Pray, why not? In my opinion we should not only applaud Constable Lyn-Sue’s revolutionary action, we should reward him for telling the truth, no matter how personally inconvenient to himself. After all don’t we want others to step forward and do the same? Or do we think in spite of what former Police Commissioner Lucius Thomas said a few years ago about rampant corruption in the police force that this is an isolated incident? Why such nitpicking over an act that has now forced the Police to institute the kind of review of the Force that has been overdue for years?

Another common response from some members of the public was that they didn’t know why Constable Lyn-Sue’s confession was such a revelation; after all everyone knew that many police personnel routinely falsify information and frame innocent people. One caller to the programme Looking Forward, Looking Back, on which I’m a co-host, claimed that he had several friends on the Police force who freely admitted to engaging in such perversions of justice so what was so great about what Lyn-Sue had done?

Well, it just boggles the mind that people can’t see the difference. Private or bar-room confessions by corrupt police and soldiers place no pressure on anyone to curb the disturbing criminality of lawmen. You can see the difference Lyn-Sue’s action has made by the reaction of various members of the police force. The new Police Commissioner immediately suspended the detective constable after the news of his confession hit the headlines.

In a disturbing article published yesterday Jamaica’s leading newspaper, the Gleaner, quoted members of the police force complaining about young Lyn-Sue’s breach of collegiality and the so-called ‘code of silence’ which allows such wrongdoing to flourish. In their view he was a traitor.

“In this business, your word is your bond, it is what you live and die by,” said one lawman, bitterly. “You just can’t decide overnight that you are now a Christian, so you should go out and talk foolishness to mash up other people’s life.”

Thankfully, Lyn-Sue remains undaunted and unrepentant. “Some people are saying that I have destroyed my life and my career. However, I am happy to say that whatever I have lost in this world, I have gained in Jesus Christ.” Amen and Hallelujah! In a Christian country such as Jamaica, surely there should be many more Lyn-Sues. Those who make the comparison to Marion Jones’s confession are missing the point. Unlike Marion Jones, Detective Constable Cary Lyn-Sue was in no danger of being found out. He could have remained mum as his colleagues seem to wish he had and kept his job and furthered his career. Instead he decided to clear his conscience by confessing.

Mere applause is insufficient. Lyn-Sue is already a candidate for Man of the Year in my books. He has given new meaning to the phrase ‘he acted like a man’.